This is the bible of long-distance cruising under sail, a big, all-inclusive book a serious cruiser just has to have. Based on Leonard's more than 10 years of cruising all around the world - and more than that, based on her understanding of what it really means to cruise successfully and happily - this compendium covers all the dimensions of life at sea, from boat issues to human issues, from living skills to voyaging through foreign lands, from technical skills like anchoring to personal skills such as learning to be with yourself and other psychological matters at sea.
Beth A. Leonard
The Voyager's Handbook: The Essential Guide to Bluewater Cruising
International Marine/McGraw-Hill, 2nd edition, 2007
574 pages, hard cover
What It's About?
This book became a classic in its first edition, and in the new second edition Leonard not only updates and expands that material but adds new topics to cover all dimensions of the cruising experience.
A quick overview of the book's contents:
- Part 1 The Essential Ingredients in three chapters covers the first decisions: who makes the best cruising crew, how to finance long-term cruising, and the best boat characteristics. This includes one of the best and most realistic analysis of costs I've ever seen - a classic issue for those considering cruising.
- Part 2 Refitting and Equipping the Yacht for Bluewater Voyaging has seven chapters detailing virtually everything a bluewater sailboat needs, from sails to anchors, safety gear to navigation and communications, watermakers to electrical systems. It's easy to go overboard here, with thousands of expensive "must have" boat gizmos marketed to obsessed or worried would-be cruisers, but Leonard does a fine job of helping readers determine what they really need or don't based on their financial priorities and intended cruising area. The more you read this book, the more you appreciate her understanding that not every cruiser has big bucks in the bank before going cruising.
- Part 3 Liveaboard Skills is where Leonard really excels over other books that focus more on hardware and technical skills. These seven chapters cover how to manage both the mundane (how to organize stowage) and the critical (being your own doctor), the daily (galley tips) and the rare (encountering a hurricane) aspects of living at sea. In a chapter subtitled "Following Your Heart" she writes movingly about what things one can actually do while cruising in addition to the sailing itself: keeping the creative self alive, experiencing other cultures, participating in the arts.
- Part 4 Shorthanded Passagemaking Skills considers the reality of many cruisers, like Leonard herself, who may manage the boat for long distances with only one or two aboard. These chapters explore some of the most critical voyaging topics, such as heavy weather, managing emergencies, watchkeeping, and much more. Again, Leonard's own experience shines through.
- Part 5 Foreign Savvy begins by addressing all those most common questions new cruisers ask, such as about the laws and rituals of other countries and how to get by in a strange new culture with unknown risks, and ends with a final chapter on the voyaging life and all it means.
Why It's a Good Book
The Voyager's Handbook excels in a number of ways:
- Beth Leonard really knows her subject, and clearly has well researched anything she hasn't learned from personal experience.
- She's a fine writer with a knack to make the complex clear, the smallest details meaningful or even entertaining, and personal experience a steppingstone to universal truths.
- She's committed to her subject: she really doesn't want us to head offshore without first having thought about everything She'll freely admit her own mistakes and what she's learned from them - so that we don't have to experience them ourselves.
- She's no preacher, but you still might be converted. Many readers might wish they were voyaging with her rather than their real or prospective crew.
One of the things I like best about this book is the author's understanding of different cruising (and human) personalities and how those affect choices of boat, gear, and other decisions. In the early financial chapter, she introduces three boating styles (Simplicity, Moderation, and Highlife) to explore how little, or how much, it costs to cruise - a theme continued throughout much of the book, whether it's lugging jerrycans of water back to Simplicity versus long hot showers aboard Highlife with its watermaker and electric heater, or choices of boat gear or destinations or activities ashore. Cruising is life, after all, and no one size fits all, but Leonard is an adept guide through many decisions all cruisers need to make themselves.
About the Author
Beth A. Leonard and her partner have cruised some 100,000 nautical miles through the ocean's waters, from the Arctic Circle to Cape Horn and the Southern Ocean and a complete circumnavigation. She has written regularly for Cruising World and other sailing magazines and is the author of two other cruising books: Following Seas: Sailing the Globe, Sounding a Life (the story of her first circumnavigation) and Blue Horizons: Dispatches from Distant Seas (a collection of columns and essays about her next six years sailing the world). For Leonard, cruising is self-discovery and a spiritual journey, and her writing has justly been praised as travel writing at the highest level.
Related good reading:
The U.S. Navy SEAL Survival Handbook contains a lot of useful information for offshore sailors who might find themselves in a survival situation.